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Every year millions of people get sick through consuming food that has been contaminated. As the amount of cases reported each year attests, food contamination is a common health issue. Food-borne microbes can cause illnesses such as nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps, dehydration and diarrhea.
There are simple things that can be done to prevent or reduce the incidences of food contamination. Certain foods, especially poultry, eggs and ground beef, should be cooked thoroughly and completely. Many of these foods have organisms present in them while raw, that can cause illness if consumed. Cooking foods completely generally kills the microbes present, rendering them harmless. Use of a food thermometer is highly recommended.
Steaks, roasts, lamb and veal should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius). Ground beef should be cooked it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). A quick way to determine whether or not ground beef is cooked to the proper temperature is to ensure that the meat is cooked until it is no longer pink inside.
Pork and should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). Chicken and turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82 degrees Celsius). Eggs should be cooked until the yolk and whites are firm.
In addition to cooking foods to the proper temperature, it is also important to keep foods refrigerated or chilled at the proper temperature. Food-borne bacteria and organisms grow most rapidly at temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Generally, refrigerated foods should not be left sitting out at room temperature for more than two hours.
Another important aspect of preventing food contamination is to keep foods separated from other foods that are prone to contamination. Harmful microbes can transfer from raw foods to other foods when the same plates, knives, utensils and cutting boards are used again, without washing. Food can also become contaminated when it comes into direct contact with raw foods or with the drippings from raw foods.
Washing of hands is another critical component in preventing food contamination. Cross contamination can occur when ready-to-eat foods are handled after raw meat and poultry has been touched. Hands should be washed with soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds after handling raw meat, eggs, and seafood.
Food-borne pathogens can also be found on fruits and vegetables. Harmful organisms are often found in animal manure used as agricultural fertilizer. Thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables before consuming, cutting or cooking is another important factor in preventing illness caused by food contamination.
@jholcomb - That's not a bad tip about the sponge, but I prefer to avoid sponges altogether and use dish rags, which can be bleached.
The article mentions that food should be refrigerated within two hours to prevent possible contamination of leftover food, but I always had trouble with that because I would often make a big pot of something. After two hours, it still seemed too hot to put in the fridge.
Then I read another good tip - separate your food into smaller containers instead of using one big one. The smaller containers will cool off faster in the fridge and will keep from warming up the food that's already in there. I got some nice small size Pyrex dishes with plastic lids - very handy and both microwave and dishwasher safe.
If you often prepare both meat and fresh vegetables for the same meal, consider having a designated cutting board for each one. Even washing the cutting board might not be enough to prevent cross-contaminated food if you are just washing it by hand in the sink. (Dishwashers are generally hot enough to sanitize a cutting board.)
Something else to be aware of is your kitchen sponge! It is a perfect place for bacteria to grow because it's moist. To clean your sponge, put it in the dishwasher often, then wring it out thoroughly and put it in the microwave on high for one minute. (Then let it sit and cool off for another little while - it will be *hot*!)